Works in progress: The Guardians of the Tides by Patrick ten Brink

Patrick ten Brink EEBWhat are you currently working on and what inspired you to start writing it?

I am writing a fantasy trilogy, The Guardians of the Tides, that was inspired by two things: one “story night” my daughters gave me three ingredients – a beach, insects, children – and I had to thread a story around them. This became the seed for my story. The second inspiration: I came home one day proudly holding a book of non-fiction I’d just published, and my eldest daughter said, ‘Dad, only people in offices will read this. Can’t you write a book everyone will read, like Harry Potter?’ While I laughed at the wonderful ambitions that children have for their parents, it rekindled a dream I had in my early twenties and I started to develop the story from the earlier story night. Who was I to refuse my daughters?

So, what is the story about?
The Guardians of the Tides a tale of three siblings – Celeste (15), Newton (12) and Clementine (5) Willow – who move abroad to the coastal town of St Estelle after an accident back home makes them chose a new life in France. There they befriend Freya de L’Etoile and her brother, Georgiu de la Roche, a story-teller, who are secret guardians of St Estelle and Travellers of the Mists to the Borderlands. They begin to introduce the Willow children to the secrets of the Tides and Mists, that connects their world to the Land of the Black Sands, the Green Lands and the Land of the Silver Sands. Both Freya and Georgiu have lost loved ones to those lands and want to protect the children from its dangers, but need the Willow children’s help.

bugsIn Book 1: Accidental Creations, the Willows discover strange things swept in through The Tides –phytoluminescent squid, silver-beaked birds, and a fountain of blue letters. They also come across a strange woman in the mists who tries to tempt Celeste across to the Land of the Black Sands, and who sends a box full of black beetles formed out of twisted black words to contaminate St Estelle. Soon Accidental Creations stalk St Estelle – Shadow-people who suck out music through long thin trumpets, Spark-flies that leech colour, and a wooden Golem that saps ideas. Will Freya and Georgiu and the Willow children manage to defend St Estelle?

WP_20160720_005 2In Book 2: Temptations in the Land of the Black Sands – The Lady of the Black Sands, whose past is closely connected to Georgiu’s, gets her eye on the town’s prodigal son, Darius de Grey, a talented musician, who is infected by living tattoos from the Land of the Black Sands. Darius tries to get back a stolen voice of his ex-love Elodie in this desolate land, but is seduced its secrets – the vast granite cliffs are covered in crystals, each housing the last memory of a passing soul who unravelled in this land. Darius becomes addicted to the stories and music from The Wall of Words and wagers his soul. Freya and Georgiu engage the Willow children to help bring Darius back, but not all ends as it should.

In Book 3, Travellers through the Mists, Celeste gets abducted by the Lady of the Black Sands, who chooses her as her successor. Celeste escapes but is infected by black tattoos that creep up her feet and legs, whispering the longing of souls that have passed through the land. When she meets Freya’s grandson, Asgar, who got captured by the Land of the Black Sands, she must decide about the course of her destiny, which in turn, also affects the destiny of St Estelle. There’s a lot more in the books, so I hope you are not sated by the summaries above.

Where and when does the action take place?
It is a contemporary but also timeless novel taking place in St Estelle, a fictitious coastal town on vast tidal estuarine beaches in France. It also takes places in the borderlands, particularly in the Land of the Black Sands – the land through which souls pass and unravel, leaving their most precious memories or dreams as crystals on the granite cliffs. Their longings raid down as black sands, and the rest of their soul becomes threads of white letters that are abducted by the mists and taken to the Land of Silver Sands, where the souls reside. The Willows manage to get to the Green Lands, a world of unbridled nature, a source of new species reaching St Estelle via The Tides, that, together with the Mists, create a portal between the worlds.

How long have you been working on it?
Close to every day for six years for the trilogy. I sometimes slowed as I focused on other projects – poetry, short stories, and the BWC anthology -The Circle, but it never went far from my thoughts. I’ve a day job, so I write from 7:30 to 8:45 in the mornings before work, and when I’ve time on planes or trains or the sofa.

Did you writing change from book one to book three? How?
Immensely. I think the first draft of book 3 was better than the 11th draft of the first book! (Though I’m in the process of rectifying that).

I had to learn the tools of the craft the hard way in Book 1, PoV, narrative voice, narrative arcs, character arcs, dialogue and inner voice, “show don’t tell”, realistic 3-D characters, active verbs, oh, and the non-trivial issues of grammar and punctuation. When my daughter saw me reading a book on punctuation, she said to my wife that she thought I’d been abducted by aliens and replaced by a doppelganger.

The first two books were in omniscient third person. No matter how close I tried to get to the characters, I always felt a little too far away, so when I got to book three I adopted a new approach – I wrote the chapters led by Celeste, C-Sharp the magpie, and a new character, Amelia, in first person. I really enjoyed that.

What were some of the best and some of the most challenging parts so far?
The best bits came when the characters take over the story, and it writes itself. My crazy little magpie, C-Sharp, drove chunks of book 3 forward, as did Celeste who had to cope with being alone and lost in the Land of Black Sands, gradually discovering its true nature.

I also had so much fun in creating the world and populating it with odd creatures – Freya’s birds and snakes she makes out of letters, the Silver-beaked birds, the Kookaburra made out of chalk and words, and the insane five Sages that form out of seams of crystallised memories smashed together.

I enjoyed creating the contaminating black word beetles that infest everything they touch with longing and even more with the Shadow people that are like cloaked monks that suck music in through their long thin trumpets, leaving but silence.

And one scene that I really enjoyed writing was the one in the Cave of the Five Sages in Book 3. Celeste, Asgar, C-Sharp (the magpie), Kook (the kookaburra), and The Lady of the Black Sands had to solve the riddles of the cantankerous sages.

The challenging part?
I’ll answer in two halves – one half on the process and the other on the writers’ craft. On the process – the getting feedback is, when one can be dispassionately lucid, great. But one has to breathe in deeply and steel one’s nerves and resolve to address yet another writer’s tool discovered in the prose. This is particularly intense (but also rewarding): I sent off the manuscript for a professional manuscript assessment, attended online courses (inter alia, by the inimical Scott Bradfield), and asked for alpha and BETA readers. I got a range of wonderfully positive feedback, but at least an equal amount of critical feedback. It was probably in the ratio of 1 to 2. The positive 1/3 really helps address the 2/3.

So what kind of challenges are there? For me, the main ones are:

  • I’ve a lot of characters and with the three Willow children together had a multiple PoV; giving them all space to be themselves, while keeping the text clear and having the reader get attached to the characters has had me rereading and rewriting a lot.
  • I like the complex – too much. One sentence should do one thing and do it well. So, I read and reread to make whatever complexity I keep as clear as I can.
  • I adore the visual and can forget the emotions. So, I’m forever asking myself ‘how would they react?’ as I reread.
  • I’m motivated by curiosity rather than tension, yet accept that readers need tension in a book – they want to read a book and not look at a painting after all. So, I try to see where tension makes sense and try to communicate it to the readers. That said, part of me still believes that novels can be paintings. So, don’t expect a thriller, though I am discovering a darkness creeping into the story while editing.
  • I’ve tried to write a cross-over novel that threads in poetic, scientific, metaphysical, philosophical elements (basically anything that I feel exciting and relevant as the story develops), while at the same time keeping it an accessible adventure. The Willow Children in the Borderlands is like a slow-discovery Alice in Wonderland.

And where are you at now? What are your plans after you’re finished?
I’ve been really lucky to receive excellent comments from BETA readers – from big picture comments on character, story arcs, tension, to specific comments that highlight where things could be more powerful, clearer, where to speed up or slow down to emphasise key plot points.

I’ve an intense day job so it will take me at least to the end of 2018 to get the trilogy in a good draft state. In 2019, I’ll start seeing if I can tempt an agent.

So, I suspect it will take another two years before I can dream of it being on the shelves of Waterstones down the road. So be ready for 2020! And I’ve been doing some illustrations to go with the text, so maybe it will be 2021 for an illustrated edition.

As for wider plans, I’m working on a ghost story – The Adventures of Amelia Borgiotti (the short story: Amelia Borgiotti, which forms chapter 1, was published by Coffin Bell Journal this October) – and a collection of poetry: Urban Enigmas.

How did the BWC help you in the course of your work? What was the best feedback you got from the group?
Week in, week out, over two years, the BWC writers give me a good balance of encouragement and critical advice as I read much of book 1 and parts of the other two tomes. Perhaps the best advice:

  • The writing is like a De Chirico painting – a beautiful, well-crafted world, but we need more emotions to engage.
  • It is poetic, but it needs more tension. Everyone is too nice, and the conflict is with a faceless threat (initially). Make it darker (it is seeping in through the edits…)
  • You have stories within the story – this is a risk, make sure you structure the novel well so that the right stories come at the right moment.
  • Finally, get that book out there!

Where will it fit on a bookshelf?
In my dreams, it would fit next to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, Ben Okri’s Starchild, Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Mazuo Ishiguru’s The Buried Giant, C.S. Lewis’ Alice in Wonderland, as well as Studio Ghibli’s works by Miyazaki. I must admit that for a cross-over novel it could fit on different shelves. This is a book I’d have loved to have discovered as a 12 to 15-year old. It is also one I’d welcome reading as an adult who likes Ursula Le Guinn, Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Stroud, Lemony Snicket and JK Rowling.

Who will (the final version of) your novel definitely not be suitable for?
Those who want an action-packed thriller with one main protagonist and an easily recognisable villain and simple linear storyline. Anyone adverse to poetic, philosophical reflections, or a lace-work of parallel, then inter-twining plot lines may be on a new adventure.

We assume that it will one day be published to universal acclaim and that a Hollywood blockbuster will be made from it. Which actors will play the principal roles?
Assumptions are amazing things, but let’s run with it. Now, if dreams were to come true, I’d love the books to become not only a Tim Burton film but also a Studio Ghibli animation. At the moment the book is more Studio Ghibli, but a dose of Tim Burton’s magic would add the darker side that I’ve so far not managed to raise from the sea of words. I’d be very curious about such an adaptation. For Freya and Georgiu: I’d quite like Octavia Spencer (from The Help, The Shape of Water, Hidden Figures) and Robert Downey Jr. (Ironman, Sherlock Holmes) or perhaps even better Albert Dupontel (French film director and actor in the film Au Revoir La Haut) – all aged somewhat, of course.

Octavia Spencer would be a bit more mystical than the characters she plays, and Robert Downey Jr. transforms into a crazy artist. Albert Dupontel would be able to step right into the role with due ageing creams. For Celeste, Newton and Clementine, it gets more difficult. I could imagine an actress like Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter) for Celeste; Louis Hynes (Klaus Baudelaire in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events) for Newton, and I had thought my daughter for Clementine, but this doesn’t work anymore as strange things happen – children grow up. Gina McKee (Mirror Mask, Notting Hill) or Charlotte Gainsbourg (Samba) could both make an intriguing The Lady of the Black Sands. And Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock Holmes) could be the violinist Darius de Grey who sells his soul.

In Studio Ghibli the characters would be themselves – I’d be curious to see what they’d look like stepping onto the screen. If I’m allowed another dream to come true, I’d love the astonishing illustrator – Chris Riddell (author Ottolinda series, illustrator of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, and Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree) to graphite The Willows, Freya and Georgiu, and the other Guardians into life.

Do follow updates on my Art and Lit Facebook Page: @PatricktenBrinkArtandLiterature

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Works-in-progress: Just the three of us by Martin R. Jones

21E5ly9S+cL._UX250_What are you currently working on and what inspired you to start writing it?

I have just finished a novel set in Malta in 1930. I wrote a novel a couple of years ago set in Borneo in the 1920s but I couldn’t really get it to work. I realized the problem was that I was, in fact, writing two different books, one about a man coming to terms with his wife’s death and a straightforward adventure story. There was too much of a mismatch. I already had the idea for a story set in Malta in the interwar years.

Most British people have a cosy idea of the relationship between the two counties based on the legends of the Second World War and the presence of red telephone boxes in the streets of Valletta. The reality was that in the interwar years many Maltese regarded Britain as an occupying power. At the same time Mussolini’s Italy had plans to expand into the Mediterranean, so I had the kernel of a story for an espionage thriller. I decided to split up the Borneo novel and cannibalized the first part for the Malta book. Hopefully, it works. This does mean I have the second half of an adventure novel set in Borneo so if anyone out there has the first half of a similar book I’m up for a bit of collaboration!

Where and when does the action take place?

Just the three of us starts in England in 1930. I have always been fascinated with the interwar years. It was a time of huge social and technological change where it was possible to fly the Atlantic while at the same time much of the world was little changed since feudal times. It was also a period of clashing ideologies and huge political upheaval. Plus, the clothes were cool.

The main protagonist decides to start a new life in Malta following his wife’s death, hoping to find some peace. Fat chance. He becomes embroiled in a plot to assassinate the Maltese prime Minister and de-stabilize British rule. The usual concomitant mayhem ensues, but it all ends happily. Sort of.

How long have you been working on it?

I already had part of the book when I began so I had a head start but it took me about 18 months to pull everything together.

What were some of the best and some of the most challenging parts so far?

Most of the pieces I have written up to now have been historical thrillers. I wanted to make this a love story as well, which is beyond my comfort zone. I emerged from the process with a new respect for the writers of romance fiction. Boy, getting this stuff down without descending to hackneyed drivel is HARD.

And where are you at now?

An agent asked for a full, liked it but thought it would be hard to market as a thriller, given that it didn’t quite fit into what was expected of the genre. So I’ve given it a new title (from An unofficial spy) and will rebrand it as a historical romance thriller. I’ll need to rejig a couple of chapters and write another and then, hopefully, ready to go again.

How did the BWC help you in the course of your work? What was the best feedback you got from the group?

The previous longer pieces of work I have presented at the BWC were, although I had an overall vision, done chapter by chapter. This time I had a reasonably complete draft to begin with. The problem with this approach is that you can’t always see the trees for the wood. Seeing it through other people’s eyes makes clearer what needs pruning, what needs uprooting and where new seeds could be planted.

Without the insights of the people at the BWC that would have been a much harder, and less successful task. Everyone is supportive, but more importantly, honest. It’s not always easy being told the chapter you’ve laboured over for weeks is not up to standard but this is the sort of thing you need to hear if you’re serious about producing your best work. You need to take any criticism in the spirit it is meant. And of course, if you come up with something that’s not total gibberish it’s nice to hear that from someone else, it gives you the motivation to keep on.

Who will (the final version of) your novel definitely not be suitable for?

Well, it isn’t exactly A brief history of time, but apart from that….

We assume that it will one day be published to universal acclaim and that a Hollywood blockbuster will be made from it. Which actors will play the principal roles?

The world I have tried to create is not a glamorous one, so not really ‘A’ lister material. So sorry, Johnny Depp, don’t bother to apply. Matthew Macfadyen would be perfect for Jack Gibson, as would Toby Jones for Woodland. Minnie Driver would make a good Flavia. She has such a mobile face. And Cillian Murphy for Smith.

Works-in-progress: Pages of an Autumn Journal, by M E Grey

What are you currently working on and what inspired you to start writing it?

‘Pages of an Autumn Journal’ is a series of poems I wrote in late 2016, and I am now posting them at www.autumnjournal.eu. They’re going up one at a time, a year after they were written, and the last one will go up at the end of December – so take a look, and do come back.

IMG_5994The title ‘Pages of an Autumn Journal’ originally applied to a pair of poems I wrote at the start of October 2016 – as if they could be leaves torn from a larger diaristic work, such as Louis Macneice’s Autumn Journal, which reflected on personal and public events during the autumn of 1938.  I then found myself persistently thinking about that title, and realised that I could collect a larger group of poems from that period together (that first pair now go untitled).

Macneice’s work is very engaged with political matters, yet from the perspective of an individual living within them, rather than as persuasion. I am not trying to directly equate 2016 and 1938 (a recent lecture by David Runciman details how this decade is not like that one), but last year there was certainly a feeling of not knowing what was going to happen next.

As a poet of British origin living in Brussels, this means living through the aftermath of terror attacks and the UK’s EU referendum; it means living in a town where people are trying, with and on behalf of a diverse continent, to come up with solutions for youth unemployment and the human consequences of geopolitical instability. Dealing with these ‘issues’ coexists with the experience of just getting on with life – and this quotidian aspect provides at least as much focus for the collection.

Who would be in your opinion the perfect audience for this?

Posting these poems one year later means that the pieces have had some time to breathe – yet they are still very recent. I hope that readers may be able to relate them to their own responses to some of the situations described, and also realise how things have changed in the time since. The poems are, together, a document from a particular time and viewpoint. Thus, while some readers might feel they have more in common with the narrative voice than others (for example if you live in Brussels, if you travel for work, or if you closely follow current affairs), they are intended for general consumption and not just people ‘like’ the narrator.

That said, I also hope the poems are of interest to people who can recognise aspects of themselves in the work – the number of people who proactively read poetry is tiny, so I hope people can come to the poems through interest in the content, as well as the form.

You have read some parts of it in BWC meetings. Did you find the feedback useful

Definitely. There is certainly a sense of validation when you get good feedback, but perhaps more important is to see people reacting to the poems in different ways.

Sometimes people ‘get’ what you first meant, but that isn’t the purpose of writing: a diversity of responses demonstrates the ways that a work can actually continue to exist. The feedback from the group helps me to develop my sense of what I am doing as a writer, and give me the confidence to put effort into disseminating this particular project.

If you could pick one celebrity to read out one of your poems, which poem/celebrity would it be?

I just want people to read them. I want you to read them – and why not start at the beginning. If I try and explain this impulse to myself, then I can use that idea of the poems as documentation or reportage – perhaps to serve the purpose of increased mutual understanding, integral to literature. But who really knows what it is that makes people write?

Works-in-Progress: Plums Taste Different Here

WIPSarahHPhotoThe Brussels Writers’ Circle features members who are hard at work chipping away at various monumental and epoch-making pieces of literature. Or so we would hope. In this new segment, we interview Sarah Harris about her current masterpiece-in-the-making.

First off, what is it, novel/short story/non-fiction and what is it called?

It’s a novel called ‘Plums Taste Different Here’. It is contemporary fiction, similar to ‘The Road Home’ by Rose Tremain. I got the title from an Afghan refugee I got to know in Petit Chateau (a reception centre in Brussels for asylum seekers, web site here in French or in Dutch) who told me that he missed the fruit from his country because it tasted so different here.

Where and when does the action take place?

It’s set in present day Aberdeen and is about Malcolm, a middle-aged forester, who takes in a young Afghan asylum seeker called Jawid. Alma, an enthusiastic community worker, has set up a scheme pairing asylum seekers with people who have a spare room in their house and Malcolm is the first unwitting candidate. Since the death of his mother, Malcolm has led a solitary life and is more at ease with trees than with people. The authorities have decided Jawid is over 18 and therefore has to leave the children’s home where he’s been staying and is no longer eligible to have his family brought over here. Over time an unusual friendship is forged between Malcolm and Jawid but, unknown to Malcolm, Jawid is being blackmailed by a previous contact from the children’s home. In desperation Jawid decides to leave the country, but Malcolm isn’t willing to abandon him to his fate …

Aberdeen on a typically sunny day (honest!)

Aberdeen on a typically sunny day (honest!)

You were obviously inspired by current events in coming up with the storyline of this novel, can you tell us more about that?

WIPSarahHRefugeesI run poetry workshops and teach English to refugees in Petit Chateau and this last year there has been a huge increase of asylum seekers. In particular young people, mostly from Afghanistan, who arrive here without their families, and attempt to build a new life here. I have recently undertaken a training course to become a guardian for young non-accompanied asylum seekers, so have learnt more about their situation and how refugee policy works in Belgium. This all inspired me to write this story.

Which, if any, of Christopher Booker’s ‘Seven Basic Plots’ are you following?

I guess you could say that there’s element of voyage and return and also rebirth in the story. Basically it’s about an encounter between two very different people with very little in common and how this encounter shapes and changes them. And hopefully there’s humour in it too.

How long have you been working on it?

I started it a while ago as a short story but have only been working on it as a novel these last few months.

A work of great length?

No – maybe around 75000 words.

And where are you at now? Where are you going with it?

I’ve just finished chapter five so I’ve a long way to go. The two main characters have only just met each other. I usually take a few years to write a novel, but I hope this one won’t take so long.

How did the BWC help you in the course of your work? What was the best feedback you got from the group?

The BWC is a great source of inspiration – reading out gives me a deadline to work to and the feedback is always really useful. The main feedback I have got so far is that people want to read on, so I need to carry on writing. It’s really important for me to have people believe in it.

Who will (the final version of) your novel definitely not be suitable for?

I think it’s suitable for everyone but not everyone will be interested. There’s a lot of negative press about migration and you almost never hear about the possibilities and enrichment it can offer. There’s a sense of us and them about the issue, when in fact we are all economic migrants. Hopefully this will turn into a funny and uplifting story about it.

We assume that it will one day be published to universal acclaim and that a Hollywood blockbuster will be made from it. Which actors will play the principal roles?

Two unknowns – an Afghan asylum seeker and an unemployed Scot – who will both become rich and famous by acting in it!

Thanks and good luck with the current draft!

WIPSarahHEinstein

Works-in-Progress: Lionskin

LidaBlogPhotoThe Brussels Writers’ Circle features members who are hard at work chipping away at various monumental and epoch-making pieces of literature. Or so we would hope. In this continuing segment, we interview member Lida Papasokrati about her current masterpiece-in-progress.

 

 

First off, what is it, novel/short story/non-fiction and what is it called?

It’s a short story called Lionskin, and it’s a fantasy retelling of the myth of Hercules.

Lionskin wearing his eponymous coat

Lionskin wearing his eponymous coat

Where and when does the action take place?

All the action takes place in a ”faraway kingdom, a long time ago”. Even though in the myth the adventures of Hercules take place in ancient Greece, I wanted to give my version a bit of a fairy tale feel by being vague about the time and place.

Which, if any, of Christopher Booker’s ‘Seven Basic Plots’ are you following?

I’d say it’s a cross between ‘The Quest’ and ‘Rags to Riches’. Lionskin, the protagonist, is a just a boy from a village at the beginning of the story, but if he completes the twelve tasks he could become the next king, so I think there are elements of both plot types present.

 

Why a myth retelling, and why Hercules in particular?

LidaBlogGeryonI’m Greek and spent most of my childhood in Athens, so Greek mythology was all around me growing up. The myth of Hercules was never my favourite, though – I guess I just wasn’t impressed by a big strong man going around hitting things with a club!

But then, a few years ago, I read the myth again, and I realised that there were a lot of little details that weren’t that well known – such as the fact that the goddess Athena had helped Hercules in several of his labours. I thought, what if she wasn’t a goddess, but an actual human girl?

How long have you been working on it?

The story has been sitting in my head for about a year and a half and I would occasionally write down a scene or make notes, but I only started writing it ”for real” three months ago.

A work of great length?

For a short story, it’s actually on the long side – it’ll be over 12,000 words when it’s finished.

And where are you at now? Where are you going with it?

I’m about halfway through and I’m reading out to the group as I write. This is technically a second draft I’m working on, but the first draft was much shorter, so I’m adding to it as a rewrite. Then, when it’s finished – I’m going to rewrite it again!

How did the BWC help you in the course of your work?

I don’t think I would have written the story if it hadn’t been for the BWC – not for a long time, at least! When I first joined the group back in January, I had a lot of story ideas (and a lot of notebooks filled with outlines, character names and first chapters!) but very little experience in actually writing – and finishing – a story. Reading and commenting on other people’s work has taught me a lot about the actual process of writing. And of course, getting feedback while I’m working on the story has been tremendous help!

This is Lida doing the rounds of the wards in her day job

This is Lida doing the rounds of the wards in her day job

What was the best feedback you got from the group?

I’ve received so many great tips and ideas from BWC members that it’s impossible to single out a particular one!

We assume that it will one day be published to universal acclaim and that a Hollywood blockbuster will be made from it. Which actors will play the principal roles?

I think Elizabeth Henstridge or Gemma Arterton would be great for the part of the princess. As for Lionskin, for some reason in my head I’ve always pictured him as Eddie Redmayne!

Thanks and good luck!

Works-in-Progress: In Search of Y

DavidEllard1The Brussels Writers’ Circle features members who are hard at work chipping away at various monumental and epoch-making pieces of literature. Or so we would hope. In this new segment, we interview chairperson David Ellard about his current masterpiece-in-progress.

First off, what is it, novel/short story/non-fiction and what is it called?

It’s an epic (and epic-sized) science fiction novel called ‘In Search of Y’.

Where and when does the action take place?

On the fictional planet Nile in the star system epsilon Eridani, about five hundred years in the future.

The_Seven_Basic_PlotsWhich, if any, of Christopher Booker’s ‘Seven Basic Plots’ are you following?

Oh number three, ‘The Quest’, without a doubt. My hero Jen Zo is searching for a bank of frozen sperm which (when unthawed I hasten to add) will allow an all-female space colony to have boy babies (Y-chromosome sperm, hence the Y of the title).

OK, pretend we’re a prospective agent or publisher and you have one sentence to sell us your work-in-progress. Give us that sentence.

The basic bouillon consists of sci-fi opera classic ‘Dune’ by Frank Herbert mixed in with French feminist erotic thriller ‘Baise-moi’, then lightly seasoned with touches of ‘Lord of the Rings’ by J.R.R. Tolkien and ‘Don Quijote’ by Miguel Cervantes.

How long have you been working on it?

Since November 2011 so not quite four years

A work of great length?

Yep. When I started I was worried it wouldn’t be long enough for a proper novel. Now that the completed first draft weighs in at 183,000 words I rather think I have the opposite problem.

And where are you at now? Where are you going with it?

As I said, the first draft is done but now I have to take the voluminous feedback from the group, twist and tweak the plot, reinvent the start of the novel in particular to make it more exciting and immediate, and go rewrite.

Accumulated BWC members' feedback on my first draft in repose on my sofa

Accumulated BWC members’ feedback on my first draft in repose on my sofa

How did the BWC help you in the course of your work?

I got tremendous motivation from the pressure of having to present the chapters as I wrote them. Lots of great suggestions and ideas, and technical advice – my novel is very dialoguey but I learnt loads about how to try and break that up into more digestible sections.

What was the best feedback you got from the group?

Two examples stand out for me. One member told me a certain chapter reminded her of the ‘Three Witches’ scene from the play Macbeth. I liked the idea so much I am going to rewrite the chapter in the second draft with various direct references to that scene.

Secondly, several people told me to reimagine the swearwords current on my fictional planet to give greater authenticity. This I did and now my characters have an argot all of their own. Sadly, this is a family website and I am not at liberty to discuss what those terms are, but readers of my second draft will hopefully raise an eyebrow or two when the time comes.

Who will (the final version of) your novel definitely not be suitable for?

Children. The novel contains various scenes containing sex possibly not in the context of a warm and loving relationship. Oh and lashings of violence to boot.

epsilonEridaniWe assume that it will one day be published to universal acclaim and that a Hollywood blockbuster will be made from it. Which actors will play the principal roles?

I can see Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker from the 90s/2000s ‘Rush Hour’ action comedy series playing the hero Jen Zo and his side-kick Olifah Tambo. For the Grand Mother, I was thinking Meryl Streep might like the part if I can give her a weird and challenging enough accent to master.

Thanks and good luck with the second draft!